Aizawl, October 02: Covid positivity rate in Mizoram continues to remain frighteningly high even as the country as a whole witnessed a downward trend in cases.
A high positivity rate is indicative of the fact that a state might be testing only the severely ill and require more tracking and treatment of a larger infected population. Though the fatality rates may have been lower this time compared to the peak of the second wave in April-May, any new variant carries the risk of more casualties.
Meanwhile, the positivity rate in Mizoram stands at 17% followed by Sikkim, Manipur, and Meghalaya, each ranging between 5% and 8%.
About 16% of the cases registered in August and September have been in the 0-10 age group, which is twice the national average, though none of them is serious. Some of these infections were reported from outbreaks in residential schools and orphanages.
With a population of barely 12 lakh, Mizoram has been consistently among the top five in fresh infections the past few weeks, alongside much bigger states such as Kerala and Maharashtra. It currently has nearly 16,000 active cases.
Last week, it recorded its highest single-day surge, with 1,846 cases — the third-highest count in the country that day. On Monday, its positivity rate was 31.77%, against the national average of 1.42%. Its September count of 32,000 infections was a 60% rise over August.
Even decent vaccine coverage has not been able to control the infections — 88% of the eligible population of the state (or 6,80,690 people) have received at least one dose, while about 63% (4,42,602) are fully vaccinated. As per the report, a Central team was expected to visit the state soon to assess the situation.
Health Minister R Lalthangliana attributed the high number of cases to their testing model. “No other state is carrying out mass testing, contact tracing with the police force involved,” he said, adding that they “search all corners of the state for suspected cases”. The contact tracing team is under the Mizoram Police.
Lalmalsawma said the high positivity rate was due to testing of “targeted populations”. “So we do not get many negatives.”
Besides, in “restricted areas” that report a high number of cases, officials do “active case searches”. “We seek out people with Covid symptoms, go house to house,” said an official with the contact tracing team, who did not wish to be named.
Lalmalsawma referred to the “Mizo ethic” which helped in reporting cases. “Mizo society is very disciplined in general so there is cooperation from the public and very few people have the tendency to hide cases. This makes our job easier,” said Lalmalsawma.
Ensuring that this testing model is thorough are not just health department officials, but civil society organisations and NGOs, which yield a lot of power in Mizoram.
Another reason for the surge, experts believe, is the prolonged lockdown in the state — which might have ended up proving counter-productive. Even as other states began to unlock after the first wave ebbed, Mizoram didn’t ease restrictions, and continued to enforce lockdown after lockdown. Since March 2020, the state has been under some form of curfew, and “lockdown-like” restrictions imposed during the second wave — when it did not report many cases — are partially in place even five months later.
While in both the first and second wave, the Northeastern states witnessed surges somewhat after the rest of the country, the Mizoram situation still seems to be unique. Probably because of the stringent measures, the state took almost seven months to record its first 1,000 infections. Until a 62-year-old man, with comorbid conditions, died in October 2020, it remained the only state in the country with zero fatalities during the pandemic.
A health official in Mizoram, who did not want to be named, said that the government’s prolonged and strict lockdown “backfired”. “We used too many fear tactics in the beginning. In some localities, if someone who went to a shop tested positive, everyone who went to the shop was tested,” he said.
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Since September 2020, the state has had guidelines for home quarantine for asymptomatic patients. Officials said they will soon come up with guidelines to introduce home quarantine for the symptomatic as well.
The silver lining is that most cases have been mild. That is why despite not having the adequate medical infrastructure, it has been able to cope with the current infections. With 313 deaths, the death rate is at 0.03%.
Pointing to this, the Health Minister said: “Our main aim is to reduce the fatality rate. In the first wave, we had 140 beds and 13 ICU beds. We have now increased it to 307 beds and 34 ICU beds. We will continue to expand that.”
The state currently has one major hospital — the government-run Zoram Medical College (ZMC), which houses its sole RT-PCR testing laboratory. Apart from that there are 18 Dedicated Covid Health Centres in districts, and a network of over 400 Community Covid Care Centres.